WOODEN SHJIPS: Shrinking Moon For You (10″, no label WS-001, 2006)

Wooden Shjips 10"

I love this kind of thing: I read in an issue of Wire some time back that this band, who sounded great from the all-too brief description that was given, were giving away free 10″ records to anybody who took the time to e-mail them. The word free is enough to pique my interest at any time, and so a polite e-mail was fired off, and quickly returned with a polite e-mail asking for some payment to cover postage from the US to the UK, but emphasising that ‘the record is itself free’. Looking back at my saved e-mails, it seems that Wooden Shjips responded to my e-mail after only sixteen minutes had passed from its being sent. Isn’t it great when a band is not only good listening, but also both polite and punctual?

Wooden Shjips are indeed good listening. The ultra-minimal packaging here (nothing more than a stamped white label 10″ in a white sleeve with a miniscule clear sticker in one corner) is nice and understated, leaving the music to speak for itself in all its repetitive, droney glory. Many people would conside ‘repetitive, droney’ to be a negative description of a band, but not me, bub. I’m a long-term fan of not only original exponents of Krautrock and psychedelia, but also their more modern counterparts. Give me Spacemen 3, Pink Floyd circa Piper At The Gates Of Dawn through Meddle, Loop, Can, Red Crayola, etc etc etc, and I’m a happy chap. This 10″ is a fine marker in the sand for a band that combines all of the things I love about their brand of music – it rocks hard, but it’s super-relaxed; it’s tripped-out and hippyish, but it’s moody and sinister.

Note to anybody reading: I like free vinyl. Feel free to contact me on this front.

THE WALKER BROTHERS: Take It Easy With The Walker Brothers (LP, Philips BL7691, 1965)

Take It Easy With The Walker Brothers

I bought this in a charity shop very recently (Oxfam, in Oxford’s Summertown area if I remember rightly) as it was pretty cheap and I’ve long been intrigued by how much devotion and column inches the Walker Brothers seem to have gotten since they were an active outfit. I’m still not entirely convinced, based on this record. It’s okay, but oddly bland, and the meta-operatic vocal style grates a little. I’m yet to hear Scott Walker’s recent solo work, but from what I’ve read it would seem that he’s become some kind of leftfield maverick genius of late. It’s hard to see the glimmers of that in this record, to be honest. Ah, maybe I’m just not of the right soul to appreciate this, or something.

Two interesting facts I’ve learnt from this purchase, however:

  1. The Philips record label only has one ‘L’ in its name. It’s so easy to think it should be two, especially after seeing the logo so many thousands of times in the past and presuming that this was the case.
  2. (According to the liner notes on this record) the Walker Brothers are not brothers at all:

…the Walker Brothers is a phenomenon, the like of which has never before been witnessed in this country and one which has not been explained entirely satisfactorily. Scott Engel, John Mans and Gary Leeds, related only in a musical sense, were interlopers from America. They had arrived in England in February 1965, completely unheralded and without even the benefit of stardom in their own country to boost their chances here.

Lumme. Hyperbole aside – perhaps this kind of liner note writing set up their status as legends in music – that’s genuinely educational for me. Did everybody else know this fact already?

MOONSHAKE: Eva Luna (LP, Too Pure PURE 16, 1992)

Moonshake - Eva Luna

I’d been after this record for ages and couldn’t track it down anywhere – nothing on eBay, nothing from any mail-order outlets, nothing in any second-hand record shops – and then who would have thought it, I came across a copy in one of the many fine charity shops in the Headington area of Oxford. It’s for the possibility of this kind of amazing happenstance that I still browse charity shop record bins very regularly. But they’re all getting a bit wise to the value of their goods these days. I’m an ardent charity supporter as much as the next humanity-minded citizen, but I’m still not quite sure of the logic behind pricing the shops out of the ‘pick up ten items for a quid each’ market and into the ‘just pick one item for a fiver and balk at the price’ market. Who knows. Maybe the figures stack up, but dammit, I just want to find rare and valuable records and pay fifty pence for them!

Look at that cover – magnificent. Truly the work of a deranged outsider artist genius, I’d say. Some choice phrases to be found on there: ‘Total Scuzz Out’, ‘Turgid!’, ‘2 In Tents To Die!’. Utter marvellous gibberish. Moonshake were, of course, named after the Can song, and did, of course, feature Dave Callahan of C86 darlings The Wolfhounds. As you might expect, they combined jangly indie noise and Krautrock, and were either way ahead of their time, way behind the times, or operating in a separate dimension. Weird and brilliant.

HOOD: Rustic Houses Forlorn Valleys (LP, Domino WIGLP42, 1998)

Hood - Rustic Houses Forlorn Valleys

To my recollection this was Hood’s first ‘big time’ release, marking their shift from sporadic flurries of records coming out of tiny microlabels in bagged, hand-folded sleeves to a proper, ‘real’ label. (Bear in mind that in the spectrum of labels releasing Hood’s work, Domino were and remain independent yet Geffenesque in scale compared to earlier labels that they worked with). The Hood ‘aesthetic’ was all over this album – the record’s title creating some kind of Lakes village mystery, the grainy photographs of nothing that mask some unimagined tension and dread, and the insert contained within that, despite the run on this release being in the thousands rather than the hundreds, contained the band’s actual address as a means to contact. Since the early ’90s Spofforth Hill in Wetherby has seemed a mystical place to me, being the place from which both Hood and Boyracer – both long-term favourites of mine – originally appeared, and a road to which I sent countless letters back in the day when we all used to correspond through the mail.

This Wetherby contingent – very recently celebrated on a new release from Boyracer founder Stewart Anderson’s 555 label – got involved with a lot of musicians and artists as time went by. Looking at the few names mentioned on the insert for this record we’ve got Matt Elliot (Flying Saucer Attack, Third Eye Foundation), Richard Formby (producer to everybody from Spacemen 3 to Telescopes to a billion other acts) and Nicola Hodgkinson (Empress) – just a tiny glimpse into a network of friends and collaborators that sprang up around Hood, Boyracer and their associated ilk.

I was going to write about what a shame it is that Hood never became really big, and that they never seemed to break out of an in-the-know circle of people (admittedly, a pretty large circle) – they’re certainly good enough and have put in enough years of effort to warrant some kind of real recognition. But then again, maybe it’s not a shame? It’s always good to have a band or two who never ‘cross over’, who don’t become something they never hinted at becoming in their earlier days. Like the mysterious images on their record sleeves, Hood were then and still are a mysterious band, and one that you need to investigate and work with to get the most out of.

TRAFFIC: Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush (7″, Island WIP-6025, 1967)

Traffic - Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush

Ah, I love this record. I saw the movie Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush, for which this is the theme tune, when I was around 17, and it immediately became one of the things that make me who I am today. If nothing else, it may have been the genesis of my long-standing desire to have been born in, ooh, 1950, and to have grown up through the 60s as a young teenager. I read the book – I forget who it’s by – soon after seeing the film, and remember that being great as well. Utterly vacuous and superficial, in both book and film form, the story may be; but hey, that’s what I like, maybe. I used to be friendly with a neo-Riot Grrl named Andrea in the early 90s, and she was utterly repelled by the book and saddened that I had read it and enjoyed it. She was doubtless right, but I was never quite so black and white and set in my opinions – or, at least, I could (and still can) come up with convincing, pseudo-intellectual reasoning for liking something that is, to many people, utter rubbish.

One of the great things about the movie is the appearance of the Spencer Davis Group in one of those quintessentially 60s scenes that sees the protagonists visit a swinging, hip nightclub (or, as memory serves, some kind of youth club, in this case…) That band’s Steve Winwood was, of course, the main man behind Traffic,  whose softly psychedelic theme tune, with one flared leg squarely in acid nirvana, the other in the pop charts, is one of the more lightweight parts of their output. The flip to this 7″ is ‘Coloured Rain’, a dreamier, more introspective number that hints more at the extended wigouts that make a lot of Traffic’s albums so horrendous and captivating in equal measures.

I’d like to see a lot of old movies from this period again, some time – this one, The Knack And How To Get It, Head, Psych-Out, The Trip, etc etc etc. I can’t get enough of them, or the music and perceived lifestyle of simplicity and fun that inevitably comes along with them.

This is a second-hand record, bought from a record fair at some time in the past. The labels have the name ‘G. Albury’ written on them in biro – I wonder who that is? Did G. Albury buy this in 1967? Are you G. Albury?